Monday, 11 February 2019

MPs MAY ACT AGAINST HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS








Housing
secrecy:
challenges
grow
Image result for secrecy picture
 For many years the giant Riverside Housing Association has been challenged about its secrecy in dealing with its 50,000 tenants and leaseholders. 

Sometimes the challenge has been backed up with Freedom of Information requests.But every challenge has failed because housing associations unlike the majority of public bodies are not subject to Freedom of Information laws.Because of that loophole, secrecy continued unchallenged.

 That loophole- and many others-  allows failures, abuse and waste  to be covered up. As Tony Blair said when he introduced Freedom of Information in 1998: “Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in governance and defective decision making".
The purpose of the Freedom Information Act is simple. Members of the public, including journalists, can ask public authorities for information they hold. Unless divulging it would cost too much, or prejudice national security or there is another good reason to hold it back, officials have to oblige
https://www.itpro.co.uk/sites/itpro/files/2016/03/elizabeth_denham.jpg











Now Elizabeth Denham (above) the Information Commissioner has said that parliament should act to close the loopholes.

Ms Denham said that housing associations are the clearest example of exempt organisations, as they carry out public tendering processes to provide public services.
No photo description available.


Closure of the loopholes cannot come soon enough for critics of  Liverpool-based Riverside which has come under increased pressure recently from Carlisle City Council and others, particularly over its Longtown(near Carlisle) heating scandal where dodgy boilers led to tenants` unafordable energy bills of up to £4,000.

The full story of why these boilers were installed has still to be revealed by Riverside despite a  continued campaign by the tenants over several years.

The picture is likely to be completely different soon a few miles over the Scottish border from Longtown. Riverside will actually face Freedom of Information laws through its ownership of Irvine(Ayrshire) Housing Association.  

The Scottish Government announced today that it and other Scottish  housing associations would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act from November 11.


Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 522277 or 01228 532803

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

WELCOME CHANGES IN A YEAR UNDER REVIEW



Carlisle Tenants` and
Residents`Federation

Chairman  Tony Clifford  Vice Chairman Denise Moses
Treasurer  Kenny Simpson Secretary  John Barker
Theresa May`s boost  for social housing and more pressure on Riverside  Association

Report for the year 2018/19 to be presented by the Chairman
at the annual meeting on February 21 2019

The Federation has had another very successful year with  regular  monthly meetings and committee meetings held in Eastern Way Fire Station. All our meetings have been stimulating and enjoyable and have attracted people from other groups in the city.

The following are the highlights of the year:

Welcome boost for social housing: There has been a welcome transformation during the year of the government`s attitude to social housing.  Opposition to social housing which was the policy of the Cameron government has given way to  support by the May administration in face of the serious and growing housing crisis.

Councils now have the go-ahead to start building council houses again and there has been a stream of supporting moves backing the new policy by  government ministers  by supporting  organisations and a by a government Green Paper, A New Deal for Social Housing.

Strong support:The Federation  strongly supports this  recognition of the importance of social housing and has backed and publicised the efforts by the housing minister, Kit Malthouse MP, by Kate Henderson, the recently appointed chief executive of the National Housing Federation,  by the Liverpool-based Confederation of Co-operative Housing and very recently by a commission from  the homeless charity Shelter.

The Federation has also strongly supported the Labour Party campaign against section 21 of the 1998 Housing Act which allows private landlords to evict tenants without reason..

Chapter for a book: More support for social housing campaigns  was given to author and campaigner Glyn Robbins who is writing a book with the title Whatever Happened to Housing Associations? The Federation wrote a chapter for the book at the request of Mr Robbins. 

Mr.Robins says that too many associations are not what they claim to be.
These associations may have started life years ago in a charitable way as social landlords aiming to give a home to the homeless. But they have strayed badly.These rogue associations have become property developers, principally interested in profits and a big deception of the public is underway

Visit to The House of Commons: In July, the Federation`s Chairman and  Secretary travelled to the House of Commons to take part  in a meeting of the Parliamentary Campaign for Council Housing, where MPs heard evidence from tenants across England on the key issues concerning council housing.

Matt Western MP, Chair of the  Campaign and David Drew MP, Vice-Chair, were supported at the meeting by Eileen Short of Defend Council Housing. The Federation thanks Eileen for making it possible for the Federation to take part.

Impact Housing Association: During the year, Federation became involved  with the Workington-based Impact Housing Associaton`s controversial  merger with Riverside Housing  Association of Liverpool. It followedl  a decision by the housing regulator to downgrade Impact  because of its failures in governance and viability.

 In a Cumberland News report the  Federation criticised Impact for secrecy and spin. Mr Mark Costello, Chairman of Impact replied in the paper that the Federation had no right to be critical because it did not represent the tenants and was  a pressure group  that was not recognised  by either association. Mr Costello`s Impact , like other housing associations receives many thousands of pounds of public money. The Federation believes that these associations should be held to account about how that money is spent.

The merger and what led up to it  was also  criticised in great detail
 by  Mr AdrianWaite  a former chairman of Impact who lives at Appleby.
His serious concerns including secrecy, misleading statements and lack of
accountability were recounted in great detail on his much-admired blog 
published  as part of his management consultancy and training organisation
AWICS .

AWICS principally supports housing associations and local
authoritity housing.. Mr Waite has forwarded his concerns to the social
housing regulator and to the  Ministry of Housing.  The Federation
supported Mr Waite`s criticism through the blog.     

Links with other campaigning organisations : The Federation has continued to strengthen working links with the North West Tenants` and Residents` Assembly .It also strengthened links with Mr David Young a former Federation Secretary who now lives in Scotland. Mr Young and Mr Jimmy Devlin, Chairman of the Assembly are thanked for their contributions to the blog.

City Council and questions for Riverside:  The Federation has continued to hold Riverside Housing Association to account through meetings with  city councillors and officials. Riverside is the city`s biggest landlord with 50.000 homes The council` s relationship with Riverside continues to be no longer passive and tame but is now very pro-active and critical  when necessary.The council`s Economic Growth Scrutiny Panel has been formulating a new basis for the future  relationship with Riverside following much criticism of the association and also following Riverside`s national  reorganisation and the abolition of  Riverside` Carlisle governing board.

A gigantic increase of open-ness and accountability is sorely needed  in the Carlisle area as far as  Riverside is concerned. Riverside, in the view of the Federation is accountable to no one but itself.  It is no longer a housing association but is a profit-making  property development company.

Riverside campaign of hostility to the Federation:  
During the year, Riverside made moves to gag the Federation. Needlessly to say these moves were resisted and challenged.The Federation has continued to challenge Riverside`s  campaign of hostility to the Federation which started  when Riverside provocatively and outrageously told the city council that the Federation would cease to exist. This  statement was noted  by the council and entered in the minutes.

Riverside followed this  statement by twice attempting to block the
Federation `s participation in the business of the city council`s Community Overview and Scrutiny Panel. Riverside has  still not explained why it wishes the Federation not to exist and how it proposes to ensure that demise. Nor has Riverside explained its frequent use against the Federation of its obnoxious Persistent Complaints Procedure.

Ms Sarah Paton  Riverside`s Northern Regional Director based in Newcastle upon Tyne is now in charge of Carlisle but the association`s bossy and inefficient legacy persists. And Riverside continues its deplorable use of incomprehensible gobbledegook in communications with tenants and others.

The legacy also persists in  Riverside`s failure to  adopt an acceptable effective complaints procedure and its failure to to have any democratic arrangements available for effective tenant and leaseholder community representation on the Riverside board. It is a scandal that all the previous tenant  and leaseholder community groups which existed before Riverside  arrived on the scene were abolished at the takeover and their grants terminated.The deplorable bossy culture  has been publicly criticised by Carlisle city councilors.

Longtown Action for Heat: Much of the Federation work during the year has involved much active  help for the  very unfortunate tenants of Riverside who live in Longtown.
An estimated sixty of them, together with others at Crosby- on- Eden were victims of appalling Riverside mismanagement following the installation in their homes of dodgy heating systems which are so expensive to run the tenants cannot afford to use them. Some of the affected properties now have new tenants on short term tenancies and many  have been vacated and  are still not let. Riverside faces an uphill battle in letting these properties and has been offering extra incentives to prospective tenants but with little success.  Longtown Action for Heat, led by Jimmy Robb and backed by the Federation are tackling this problem together with problems arising from undesirable tenants being  moved into the town by Riverside.
.

Carlisle South Community Association: The Federation continues to  be actively involved in the work of Carlisle South Community Association which does excellent work supporting communities, particularly in tackling dog fouling and improving  the facilities in Dale End Park at Petteril Bank. A  group, Friends of Dale End Park was formed by the association which is now planning further improvements to the park, particularly the provision of  a BMX Track. The association continues to have the active help and co-operation of  the  city council Green Spaces and of the county council..

Botcherby Forever ..The Federation continues to maintain links with the community group Botcherby Forever and  managed to fund an enjoyable Christmas meal and get-together at the Lakeland Gate Inn, Botcherby.


Federation blog: Most of the issues raised in this report have been previously covered by the Federation blog. The blog`s viewing figures have risen consistently since the blog started  in March  2013. The blog is increasingly seen as a very useful Federation publicity and information tool.

The blog is  named Community Voice Carlisle.The link  is:http://carlisleruraltenantsfederation.blogspot.co.uk/


Thanks to everyone: I wish to thank everyone who have helped the Federation during the year and thank all who have attended our meetings and contributed to our many interesting discussions and debates                                     

Tony Clifford  February 21 2019

Information about the Federation is available on 01228 522277 or 01228 532803

Saturday, 19 January 2019

HOUSING ASSOCIATIONS WHICH DENY PROPER JUSTICE


End these `bossy housing regimes`

Another day, another damning report about the bossy housing association regimes that run many of  Britain`s social housing estates.


Now it`s the turn of homeless charity Shelter to attack these regimes following on from  the Grenfell  survivors`hard-hitting report and a government green paper  on social housing.



Just how effective these damning reports will be in ending the authoritarian regimes is anyone`s guess. But there is no doubt that  change is on its way.

The Shelter report- by the commission on social housing- takes up a number of proposals put forward by the disaster’s survivors. 


The commission makes the case for a model based on reforms to the banking sector, a key element of which is that consumers – tenants in this case – should have their own regulator.The new organisation, the report argues, should proactively inspect private as well as social landlords and set clear standards.


Barriers to complaint must be removed, no-fault evictions outlawed, and tenancies extended beyond the three years now being considered – as they have been in Scotland.There is a  proposal for a national independent tenants’ organisation, and enhanced powers for local groups

 Currently, half of private renters who make complaints are evicted within six months. The commission point out that many tenants are locked in, and cannot “switch supplier”, as consumers are encouraged to do when dissatisfied with a utility company,


The recommendation that 3.1m homes should be built in England in the next two decades would see the largest-ever growth of socially rented accommodation. This would provide for all those failed by the market, including 691,000 older people as well as priced-out younger renters, and the 1.27m households “in greatest need”
.

There are proposals for a new regulator and union for tenants. And people who will never own their own homes should be entitled to a socially rented one.



Image result for grenfell pictureThe Guardian reporting on the commission`s findings says this:

  “If we can one day look back and see that Grenfell led to a cultural shift in the way housing is regarded, and an improvement in the position of tenants, the disaster’s 72 victims will not have died for nothing.”


A spokesman for Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation which publishes this blog said:


“We welcome the recommendations of the Shelter commission particularly the new powers for tenants to get their complaints resolved in fair democratic manner. For too long bossy housing associations have denied proper justice and instead have sought to victimise  these tenants.


“For many years we have fought  Riverside Housing Association of Liverpool and  the authoritarian regime it  has run in Carlisle using  such measures as its obnoxious Persistent Complaints Procedure. Under this Riverside acts as policeman judge and
jury to anyone who complains.” 

Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 522277 or 01228 532803

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

WANTED: A HOUSING WATCHDOG WITH BITE


Jail threat in 
Grenfell
survivors` 
clean-up plan

Housing boss Carol Matthews this week faces even more tests to her patience this week  as she and other housing bosses are again targeted. Serious stuff this time, a threat of jail.

The threat comes from Grenfell survivors.They are are rallying residents’ associations across the country  with the aim of getting a social housing watchdog with bite  – with the power to prosecute and jail negligent housing managers.


Last month this blog reported that Ms Matthews, Chief Executive of the giant Riverside Housing Association of Liverpool was impatient about the slow response to the recent social housing green paper. 

Hoardings in support of the victims of the fire.
Grenfell...."forever in our hearts" says the tower.
She was was also preoccupied with  the tension between being a good social landlord and an ambitious  housing developer. Grenfell survivors have much more down to earth tensions to worry about… life and death tensions.

Natasha Elcock, chair of the survivors group Grenfell United, has told supporters of plans for “a movement to ensure that people up and down the country are listened to”.


Natasha Elcock
Natasha Elcock..."people must be listened to".

The initial response from the government is reported as “receptive” with housing secretary, James Brokenshire acknowledging a need for increased regulation making social landlords more accountable.



The first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry heard evidence of Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation  repeatedly ignoring the concerns of residents over shoddy workmanship during the refurbishment of the tower.


Ed Daffarn, who escaped from the 16th floor, warned eight months before the fire that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord”.

Image result for ed daffern picture
Ed Daffarn..."let down by lack of scrutiny".
Mr Daffarn is now driving the move for more urgent reform of the social housing sector as part of Grenfell United. He is also a member of an independent social housing commission set up by Shelter, alongside former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi.The commission published a report today.




Mr Daffarn said the current housing ombudsman and social housing regulator were opaque organisations not widely known by tenants.“What we feel let us down at Grenfell was the lack of scrutiny,” he said.

“They were safe in the knowledge nobody was going to scrutinise them.”


Mr Daffarn said Grenfell United wants senior housing managers to have a statutory responsibility to keep tenants safe and a more proactive regulator that targets problems, rather than simply responds to complaints.


 “The change in culture won’t come about because of the impact of Grenfell – it will come from policy and regulation.


“We can see so many similarities between the banking industry, which was unregulated and had a crash, and a housing sector that had Grenfell. Regulating housing should be 50 times more important that regulating banks.”


A spokesman for Carlisle Tenants and Residents` Federation which  publishes this blog said: “For many years the Federation  has attempted to hold Ms Matthews` Riverside Housing Association to account following its takeover of the 7,000 Carlisle council houses 17 years ago.


 “ In that time, we have found that Riverside is accountable to no-one, only to itself.


“That situation of unaccountability is no different to that outlined at Grenfell by Mr Daffarn (as quoted above) … the housing ombudsman and social housing regulator are both failed organisations, and local authorities and M.P.s have no power to step in and help.


“We welcome the proposal that senior housing managers have a statutory responsibility to keep tenants safe and a regulator that targets problems rather than simply responding to complaints”
  Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 522277 or 01228 532803